Vikings 2014 draft review: Starters and more

The Vikings got two regular starters with their draft last year and several more that could eventually turn into starters. We review the picks and how their rookie seasons went.

Anthony Barr: First round, No. 9 overall
In the first three seasons of his college career, Barr played on the offensive side of the field at running back, wide receiver, and tight end. Once he transferred to outside linebacker, the athleticism remained and he quickly became one of the best pass rushers in college football. He has excellent speed, acceleration and closing speed, but the problem was that he was still very inexperienced as a linebacker and needed to improve on his instincts.

Since he first arrived in Minnesota, Barr has shown that he has what it takes to be an exceptional player. He even took over the play-calling responsibilities for the defense when veteran Chad Greenway went down with an injury. His season, however, was cut short when he suffered an injury. If Barr hopes to further improve his game he will need to become better in pass coverage. He continues to be a threat as a pass rusher but would make mistakes as in coverage from time to time.

Teddy Bridgewater: First round, No. 32 overall
At one point in time it was believed that Bridgewater was going to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft. That didn’t happen, though, and a big reason why is because he struggled with accuracy during his pro day, and that scared most teams. Coming out of college, Bridgewater was thought to be a hard-working competitor that could make most of the throws needed from a quarterback. He also had good footwork and was coming out of a progression-read offense, which would transfer over to the NFL well. The biggest problem with Bridgewater – apart from his poor pro day – was that he has a small build and small hands.

The Vikings were originally planning on having Bridgewater sit and learn, but he was thrust into the starting role when Matt Cassel was place on the injured reserve after the Week 3 game. Bridgewater struggled from time to time in his first few starts, but picked it up later in the season and ended on a high note. At the end of the season, fans voted Bridgewater the Pepsi Rookie of the Year. He finished the season with a 6-6 record, and as he continues to develop he should continue to improve.

Scott Crichton: Third round, No. 72 overall
Crichton played both the right and left defensive end positions at Oregon State. He decided to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft to help support his family. Crichton was scouted coming out of college as a strong player with good size to be a defensive end. He also had a good burst off the line, and good closing speed when he has an opening at the quarterback. When he got into the NFL he needed to develop pass-rush moves because he often played without a plan. He would also often play with too high of a pad level.

Crichton was very disappointed with his rookie season because he expected to play a lot more than he did. He only played in half the games during the 2014 season, and even when he was active he rarely saw the field on defense. Still, he continued to work hard on improving his game and would often stay late after practices to work on it. Next season he should see his role on the defense increase, especially if the Vikings do not resign Corey Wootton in the offseason.

Jerick McKinnon: Third round, No. 96 overall
At Georgia Southern University, McKinnon played both running back and quarterback in a triple-option offense. Because of that, there was a lot of speculation of what his role would be in a NFL-style offense. He is a great athlete and has good strength, but he has a small frame and many people wondered if he would be able to take the punishment of an entire NFL season.

When the Vikings drafted him, it was originally expected that McKinnon would primarily be used as a change-of-pace back for Adrian Peterson. Those plans changed, however, once Peterson missed all but the first game of the 2014 season. McKinnon then worked his way into the starting rotation and became the Vikings’ go-to running back. But with that increased workload the amount of hits he took also increased. Eventually his season came to a premature end when was placed on injured reserve because of a lower back injury. Next season, McKinnon will more than likely be used as a change-of-pace back to whoever is the Vikings’ starting back.

David Yankey: Fifth round, No. 145 overall
Yankey attended Sanford, where he played both tackle positions, both guard positions and a couple tight end positions as well. Coming out of college, Yankey had good size and had the ability to anchor down the line well. His biggest weakness was that he lacked ideal athleticism and could struggle with quicker interior linemen in the NFL.

Yankey was projected by draft analysts to be selected in the second or third round, but he fell to the fifth before the Vikings picked him. He had the perfect situation to take advantage of this season with all the injuries to the Vikings’ offensive line. However, he wasn’t able to take advantage of the situation and never saw the field as an offensive starter. Throughout the season, head coach Mike Zimmer said Yankey was not strong enough and not refined enough in his game. For most of the season Yankey would stay late after practice and work on his technique with other linemen. If he continues to work that hard, there is a possibility that his role increases in 2015, especially since the Vikings could be looking for a new right guard.

Antone Exum: Sixth round, No. 182 overall
Exum played both safety and cornerback while at Virginia Tech. Analysts believed Exum had ideal size to play safety in the NFL and had a nice wingspan to go along with that. He also had good speed and leaping ability, but he still needs his techniques to be refined. He is a very confident player, but some felt it boarded on arrogance as he liked to do things his way from time to time.

Exum was used primarily on special teams in his rookie season, but he received some defensive snaps when both Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo were out with injuries. His future role with Vikings is still up in the air, as he never did anything to really stand out.

Kendall James: Sixth round, No. 184 overall
James was a terrific athlete coming out of college and recorded a 4.4 40-yard dash and a 39.0-inch vertical at the NFL Scouting Combine. His vertical was the highest recorded in the at the 2014 Combine. He was a three-year starter at Maine and was regarded as being a feisty corner. The biggest problems with him, however, were that he was undersized and had short arms. He also lacked the ideal strength needed to play in the NFL, and would get outmuscled by bigger receivers.

His time with the Vikings didn’t last very long, however, and he was the only player from the 2014 draft to not make it to the Vikings’ active roster. After his offseason with the Vikings, James joined the Cleveland Browns and still remains there.

Shamar Stephen: Seventh round, No. 220 overall
Stephen was a defensive tackle and team captain for the UConn Huskies. Coming out of college, he had terrific size to transfer into the NFL and was a very athletic player, but the negative on his scouting report was that he had average eyes and didn’t recognize screens quickly enough. He was also lethargic getting off the ball and could add violence to his play to help him get around guards. Some believed Stephen was going to be drafted in the third round, but instead he fell to the final round of the draft.

Stephen may have been the biggest surprise of the Vikings’ 2014 draft, as he played in 37 percent of defensive snaps and even got the opportunity to start when Sharrif Floyd was out with injury. Throughout the season, coaches and other teammates would refer to him as the big fundamental because he did everything right. He recorded 51 tackles and seven quarterback hits. Stephen will likely be used as a rotational player once again in 2015, but his performance should increase as he continues to gain more experience.

Brandon Watts: Seventh round, No. 223 overall
Watts played his college football as a linebacker at Georgia Tech. He was considered a player who could get to the perimeter very quickly and had the ability to cover a lot of ground. He also had the ability to keep pace with tight ends and offered pass-rush potential. The biggest problem with Watts was that he had a very light frame and would often struggle fending off blockers.

His rookie season didn’t go the way he wanted to, as he was injured for a majority of it. He suffered a hamstring injury early in the season and couldn’t get healthy after that. Eventually he was able to take the field again, but reinjured the hamstring after just a few weeks. Zimmer was clearly not happy about Watts’ inability to stay healthy, and his future with the Vikings will depend on his offseason and preseason performances.

Jabari Price: Seventh round, No. 225 overall
Price made starts in all four of his seasons at North Carolina. Coming out of college, Price was scouted as being a fast player with good acceleration and the ability to turn and run deep. He is also an aggressive tackler who doesn’t hesitate to support the run. The downside of Price was that he had limited instincts and would tend to lose his receiver from time to time.

The majority of his time during his rookie season was spent as a special team contributor, but he still got snaps on defense as early as Week 1. Price was often the fourth cornerback on the depth chart and the backup to Captain Munnerlyn in the slot. He came into the perfect situation in Minnesota, as Zimmer specializes in working with defensive backs, and this offseason he is determined to improve on his techniques.

Overall Analysis
The 2014 draft was the first with Zimmer as a head coach, and he believes it is a good nucleus to build around. It is still too early in the players’ careers to really evaluate them, but they definitely seem to be on the right path. Both Bridgewater and Barr appear to be franchise-type players whom the Vikings can build around, but things can change quickly. Next season will be important for these players to see if they are able to continue to produce and improve their games.


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